Would You Ever Tell a Friend That They Were Making Bad Financial Decisions?

We’ve often written about Dear Prudence’s financial advice on The Billfold, but this one might be advice to end all advice. A woman writes in to ask Prudence what she and her friends can do about a pal who might be making “questionable financial decisions:”

One of these gals is on a seemingly self-destructive path: an on-again, off-again affair, leading to divorce; unprotected sex with multiple partners; questionable financial decisions, from the “petty” ($100 here, $100 there) to the disastrous (home purchase). In short, we are extremely worried, but unsure about what to do. On the one hand, she is our friend — and we care for her! On the other, because we are in fact co-workers, we aren’t sure what we can (and should) say without upsetting the business of work.

If this letter writer had consulted Captain Awkward, the answer would probably have been something along the lines of “You need to mind your own business and focus on getting your work done. Remember that this woman is not making her financial decisions at you, and that purchase you consider ‘petty’ may be important to her for any number of reasons. It is her money to spend, so keep your mouth shut about it. Also, stop with the sex shaming already.”

Here’s Prudie’s response:

Yes, it’s more complicated if her behavior is not impinging on her work at the office. But since they are all friends, a couple of them need to sit down with her and say they are very concerned she doesn’t seem like herself, and they are worried she is going to get into personal or financial trouble. If that doesn’t work — and someone in the grip of a possible mental illness may not be responsive to such a talk — then they have to weigh how to reach out to and whom so that she does get the help she clearly needs.

Wow. Spend over your budget and have unprotected sex — neither of which we have proof that this person is doing, by the way — and you might have a “possible mental illness.”

Despite Prudie’s advice, it seems obviously inappropriate to gang up on a coworker and stage a finance intervention about personal purchases. But what if the person were a close friend or family member? Have you ever told someone close to you that they were making bad financial decisions? Would you ever?

I’m the kind of person who could never sit down and tell someone that they were making bad financial choices. First of all, I’m a reticent Midwesterner at heart; second of all, I’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea of boundaries. You do you.

But I could see it becoming more of a pressing issue if I were, say, parenting a teenager, caring for an aging relative, or talking to a spouse about why we keep going over our household budget every month. Never a friend, though. Not even a best friend. I just couldn’t do it, which probably also says something about the type of friend I am.

What about you?

This story is part of our relationships month series.

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